Push to keep P-I globe spinning
Council members worry about the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's landmark globe, saying the lease to seattlepi.com's Elliott Avenue West building will expire this summer, and the Hearst Corp., which owns the website, hasn't disclosed its plans.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Two years ago this month, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer published its final print edition. As they grieved the loss of a city institution, three former journalists on the City Council had the same worry: What would happen to The Globe?
The luminous sphere atop the P-I's building has been a part of the Seattle skyline for 63 years — longer even than the city's signature landmark — the Space Needle.
With seattlepi.com continuing to operate out of the same waterfront building on Elliott Avenue West, the globe stayed in place. But now council members say the lease will expire this summer, and the Hearst Corp., which owns the website, hasn't disclosed its plans.
City Council members want to ensure that the globe continues to spin in Seattle and have nominated it for landmark status. A hearing — tentatively scheduled for May — has been postponed three times as the Museum of History & Industry moves on a separate track to protect it.
MOHAI is negotiating with Hearst to take over stewardship of the globe and the costs of operations and upkeep. If seattlepi.com, for instance, moved to a less-visible site, the museum could move the globe to another prominent location.
"The globe is such a great icon of Seattle," said MOHAI Executive Director Leonard Garfield. "We want to keep it spinning and ensure it stays a part of the Seattle landscape."
He said that although an agreement hasn't been reached with Hearst, the media company "understands that the globe is a part of its history and legacy" in the city.
Seattle attorneys representing Hearst didn't return calls for comment.
The impulse to protect the globe came just a day after the P-I's print edition folded.
At a City Council meeting to discuss the fate of several historic buildings, Councilmember Jean Godden, a former P-I and Seattle Times columnist, conferred with colleagues Tim Burgess, a former reporter for KJR radio, and Sally Clark, a former editor of the University of Washington Daily and Seattle Gay News, and agreed to seek landmark status.
The designation would give legal protection to the structure and how it's handled.
"We immediately felt we should do something," said Godden. "For me it was personal. I can still remember showing up for my first day of work in 1974 and feeling butterflies as I walked under the globe."
In 1947, the P-I sponsored a contest to put something atop its new building at Sixth Avenue and Wall Street. The winning entry, by a University of Washington art student named Jakk Corsaw, featured a curved map of the world that shoots streaks of light to where news is breaking across the continents.
The P-I art department refashioned the idea into a globe, added the revolving slogan "It's in the P-I," and perched an 18-foot eagle on top, according to the written nomination prepared for the city Landmarks Preservation Board.
The completed globe, 13.5 tons of steel with elaborate neon tubing to outline longitude and latitude, the continents, the eagle and the motto, represents midcentury pride in the region's industrial prowess and an embrace of the modern advertising that was lighting up the nation's nighttime skies, said MOHAI's Garfield.
It was a time, he said, when Boeing commercial planes began to span continents, when air travel shortened distances, and newspapers, more than any other medium, brought far-flung regions to people's homes.
Garfield said the P-I globe shows how "we were beginning to conceptualize ourselves on the Pacific Rim and at the epicenter of the world."
The globe also represents the generations of colorful editors and reporters who produced the paper.
A eulogy for the print edition, written by Godden in 2009 for the website Crosscut, celebrated the "journalistic misfits and literary geniuses, cigar-chomping, pipe-smoking, cigarette-addicted veterans who could turn out a mostly-accurate page-one story after a three martini lunch."
In the nomination for the globe's landmark designation, the tribute is truncated into, "Several of its 'misfits' became noted authors in later years."
The misfits included Frank Herbert, who wrote the "Dune" novels, Tom Robbins, best-selling writer of "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues," and Timothy Egan, winner of the National Book Award for "The Worst Hard Time."
In a return visit to the P-I in 2007, Robbins recalled his days on the copy desk in the 1960s. He said that during breaks, "when we ran out of reading material and certain other material happened to be available, we would go up on the roof and smoke dope. Our ambition was to get into the globe. I never made it." (His reminiscence can now be viewed on YouTube.)
Inside the globe
Godden said she talked her way into a tour of the globe before it was dismantled for the P-I's move to its waterfront offices in 1986.
Wooden steps led to the "dingy grotto" of the globe's hollow interior. The inside was crisscrossed with beams, girders and metal ladders that stretched up three stories. The machinery that ran the slogan around the equator shook and rattled the sphere like a fun-house ride, she said.
She also noticed that the steel was rusted through in places.
"South America and Africa were moldering," she recalled.
Once the symbol of newspapers' power to condense the world and deliver it to readers' doorsteps, the globe now carries an elegiac symbolism. Seattle is no longer a two-newspaper town. News is delivered at lightning speed by a range of sources.
If the globe, with all its history and associations, is moved from its current location, Garfield said, the community should be involved in discussions about where it should go.
Council members say possible future locations include MOHAI's planned new home at South Lake Union Park and Olympic Sculpture Park on the waterfront, perhaps near the park's other neon artwork, "Love & Loss."
Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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